Some reflections on self-identities, and why sometimes taking a break from grief can be a good idea.
I spend a lot of time at the moment on grief – mostly not my own, but working with the topic.
There’s this blog. There’s my work helping to edit and manage the creation of leaflets for a charity supporting bereaved parents, plus my involvement itself with that charity. There are articles I write for another grief support charity. Then there are the ongoing discussions for new bereavement retreats that I will be hosting. (I’ll make a page with the details once they’re finalised, in case you who are reading this are interested.) Plus I have the early workings for another book on bereavement. All of this entails research and reading, and along the way I communicate, meet and interact with lots of other bereaved people. I hear their stories of heartbreak, as well of course as the inspirational stories of how they’ve turned their grief into something useful that helps others, whether it’s a sponsored walk or whatever.
In all of these settings, whether physical or virtual, I am the bereaved parent. My children remain as my primary concern; my relationship to them is my primary identity.
But it’s not my only one. I am also a woman, a wife, a friend, a sister. I am a writer, a willing gardener, a clumsy cook, an unskilled artist. I’m the doctor’s patient and I’m a cancer survivor. I’m a walker, I’m a photographer. I’m a viewer of various TV programmes and a reader of sci-fi. I’m a Christian.
Sometimes I find myself needing to step back from all the grief work and have a few hours or a few days when I focus on these other identities, these other interests. That happened to me this weekend and oh it was lovely to potter around the garden all day, planting out winter flowering pansies and primula, trimming back the perennials, cleaning out the bird bath. I was a gardener that day, more than anything else.
I think it’s healthy for our minds and bodies if we can sometimes switch into those other identities. It’s not dishonouring the memories of our loved ones, or minimising our love for them, nor how much we miss them and how much they are still a part of us. No, I think that being able to switch channels, so to speak, is almost essential for our mental health. Probably our physical health too, as grief is exhausting and stressful.
In the early period of my bereavements, I could not do this switching. I was entirely the bereaved mother. Always. From the moment of waking, in my interactions with anybody I met during the day, until the moment I managed to fall back to sleep. My heartbreak filled every moment; it accompanied me on every step I took on a walk, it shadowed everything.
I think that went on for at least a year, if not a couple of years. But gradually it changed, and I started to find times when I could distract myself. I could semi-focus on a book or a film, I could even listen to music. In time those other identities became more accessible. Of course I still miss my children and I am a bereaved mother, but I am not only a bereaved mother. I am more.
We are all more than one thing. You’re reading this, and you’re probably bereaved or suffering some sort of loss. But you’re not only that, are you? You’re more.
This leads me to feel that possibly one way of assessing how well we are coping with our bereavement is how much we are able to live our multiple identities. Are we able to lay down our burden of sorrow, even for a few hours, and take up something else? If we haven’t been able to do it yet, maybe it’s something to work towards. Taking a break from grieving sometimes is a good idea.
Whether it’s the garden or a country walk, a film, a book, a hobby, a visit with friends or a meal out, going shopping or out to work, joining a club, playing or listening to music, or something else entirely – it’s okay! If you’re a spiritual person, read the texts or sing the songs that inspire you. Whoever you are, explore the options that help you feel better even for a few minutes. Be someone else for a moment.
PS. Comments welcome! How do you take a break?